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PALM BEACH, Fla. - A confident Donald Trump, holding court at his own private club, Mar-a-Lago, crowed Tuesday night about his big Super Tuesday wins, told Hillary Clinton he’d “be there in November” and insisted, “I’m a unifier.”
He still took a shot at Republican rival Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, whom he called “the biggest loser of the night.”
“He was very, very nasty,” Trump said of Rubio. “But he’s got a right to be nasty. He hasn’t won anything, and he’s not going to win very much.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former Republican presidential rival who last week threw in with Trump, introduced him for the Tuesday night press conference at about 9:45 p.m., saying “Tonight is the beginning of Donald Trump bringing the party together for a big victory in November.”
Trump did congratulate Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for winning his home state, but quickly pivoted to Clinton, saying, “ ‘Making America great again’ is going to be so much greater than ‘Make America whole again.’ ”
Meanwhile in Miami, Rubio, undaunted by a string of Super Tuesday defeats, pledged to campaign for weeks or months if necessary to deny “con artist” Trump the Republican presidential nomination.
Rubio and his family appeared before thousands of supporters around 9 p.m. at the Ronald Reagan Equestrian Center at Tropical Park as early returns showed Trump racking up a string of victories and strengthening his commanding lead in delegates needed for the nomination.
But Rubio, who began aggressively attacking Trump during last Thursday’s debate, said his anti-Trump offensive was producing results.
“Just five days ago we began to unmask the true nature of the front runner so far in this race. Five days ago we began to explain to the American people that Donald Trump is a con artist. In just five days we have seen the impact it is having all across the country,” Rubio declared.
“We are seeing in state after state — he loves to talk about polls — we are seeing in state after state his numbers coming down, our numbers going up. And two weeks from tonight, right here in Florida, we are going to send a message loud and clear. We are going to send a message that the party of Lincoln and Reagan and the presidency of the United States will never be held by a con artist.”
The expectations-lowering Rubio campaign didn’t advertise Tuesday night’s rally as a Super Tuesday event but as a “Florida kickoff rally” in advance of the state’s March 15 winner-take-all primary.
“No matter how long it takes, no matter how many states it takes, no matter how many weeks and months it takes, I will campaign as it long as it takes … to ensure that I am the next president of the United States,” Rubio said.
Rubio’s campaign sent out a fundraising email Thursday night titled “the long war on Trump” that urged donors to look beyond the Super Tuesday results.
“No matter where the final results end up tonight, we know one thing: This is going to be a long campaign, and we are not going to hand over our party to a dangerous con artist.”
Before Rubio’s arrival, large-screen TVs showed Fox News election night coverage. Cheers erupted at early reports that Vermont and Virginia were too close to call. There were loud boos at images from Trump’s event at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, an early Rubio supporter, was among those on hand.
Rubio supporters Andreas and Lenys Klumpp of Plantation tried to put the best face on things for their candidate.
“I like how he fired back against Trump,” said Andreas Klumpp, who said he believes Rubio still has time to turn things around.
“Marco’s used to being the underdog,” Lenys Klumpp said. “If anybody can do it, it’s going to be Marco. He’s comfortable in that spot. He’ll make it happen.”
Trump, flanked by supporters and family at a ballroom at his famed Palm Beach resort, was nothing but optimistic.
“This has been an amazing event. We’ve won five states and it looks like we can win eight or nine,” Trump said. “It’s only too bad that winner didn’t take all. Because if winner took all, this thing is over.”
With the big Florida vote, and all the delegates that go with it, just two weeks away, Trump beating the home-state Rubio in polls said, “We’re gonna spend a lot of time in Florida.”
And earlier in the evening, an email from Trump’s campaign said he’d be holding a rally Saturday at the University of Central Florida, near Orlando. But when asked if Florida Gov. Rick Scott would endorse him, Trump said he did not know who Scott would endorse.
In a moment of reflection, he said, “It takes courage to run for president. I’ve never done this before.”
But, he said, “’I’m a unifier. I know people are going to find that hard to believe but I’m a unifier.”
He also touted his campaign as helping “expand the Republican party” — because, he said, he’s drawing people to the polls who otherwise may not have voted or were registered to vote as Democrats.
Also in Miami, a hoarse Clinton was the first presidential candidate to take the stage in a Florida setting, when at about 8:55 p.m. she told supporters, “What a Super Tuesday!”
With a projected six states under her belt at that time, she borrowed a line from Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, “Because this country belongs to all of us” and riffed on one from Trump, “America never stopped being great” to make a campaign pitch that sounded a lot like President Barack Obama.
“The middle class needs a raise,” “add more good jobs, jobs that pay enough” and “invest in manufacturing and infrastructure” were among her refrains.